World War AI

To Keep AI Safe — Use AI


Amitai Etzioni and Oren Etzioni
January 4, 2016

Software is already pervasive in our society, but artificial intelligence software raises unique concerns even among the technological elite. The recent announcement that tech titans, including Elon Musk, have committed $1 billion to an artificial intelligence research center out of concern for what AI may become denotes an important question: Will AI software obey the law of the land and adhere to our ethical standards?

It is true that AI software is increasingly autonomous and potentially self-modifying, but it is our view of AI as a hegemonic, monolithic entity that drives our fear of it. Just as there is no one “software” entity, there will be no one AI entity. So here is a new viewpoint on how AI will be kept in check — more AI.

Think about it. Software security solutions are in fact software. Software-watching software is how we combat most dangers presented on the Internet today. So instead of treating AI as a monolithic entity, we foresee AI software designed by multiple different parties, where one AI can be utilized to check and counterbalance others. Economic markets, and the political process, are shaped by the interplay of actors with conflicting interests with laws and mechanisms in place to prevent both collusion and the concentration of power in any single entity — we advocate a checks-and-balances structure for AI, by AI.

For illustration, consider a bank being sued for denying more loan applications to African Americans than to white Americans. The head of the bank vehemently denies the charge. She points out that for the last three years the bank has relied on an AI program to sort applications. The bank required the program’s designers to determine which applicants pose more risk than others, under one condition — that the AI software be colorblind. The bank stipulated that the software must not only refrain from using race as a category, but also avoid any surrogate variables, for instance, ZIP codes. Still, the plaintiffs showed that the program discriminated. They pointed to cases in which African-American applicants were denied loans despite having credit scores as good as or better than white applicants who had had their loans approved.

The finding of discrimination does not settle the matter. The question of intent remains. The law treats deliberate offenses much more harshly than unintended ones — for example, murder versus involuntary manslaughter. Let’s assume that the bank, and the software designers, are honest and transparent. Could an AI program discriminate, even if it was not designed to do so?

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